FOOD IN JAPAN

A country defined by fish

by Hillel Wright

Culture and cuisine are closely intertwined in Japan, and especially as regards seafood.

Since bright colors such as red or yellow are considered to be lucky, Japanese New Year dishes include tai (sea bream or red snapper) or buri (yellowtail) to ensure an auspicious start to the year. Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture, is famous for king crab and salmon, while Okinawa, in the subtropical south, is known for its colorful irabucha (parrot fish).

Seasonal foods, although differing region by region, include fugu (blowfish) and anko (anglerfish) in winter, iwashi (sardine) and katsuo (skipjack) in the spring, unagi (freshwater eel) and ayu (sweetfish) in summer, and sanma (saury) and saba (mackerel) in the fall.

Tuna, however, is the king of fish for the Japanese, and, according to Masuo Ide, editor of fishery industry newspaper Suisan Times, the country consumes more tuna than any other kind of fish.

Maguro is the red-colored flesh from the muscular upper body and is the leanest and cheapest. The lighter-colored meat from the rear of the belly, chutoro, is fattier and more expensive, while the forebelly’s pinkish flesh that’s marbled with white fat — like Kobe beef — is otoro, the most expensive.

Pacific bluefin tuna from Oma will never be found at kaiten zushi bars or ordinary sushi restaurants. Oma tuna has achieved an exclusive brandlike status in Japan and is dealt to gourmet sushi establishments and to other fine dining restaurants, especially those that specialize in tuna cuisine.